As the Caps prepare to take on the Kings in Los Angeles on Saturday night, they find themselves in somewhat unfamiliar territory. Over the course of their last 167 regular season games, the Caps have encountered only four sets of consecutive regulation losses. In each of those instances, they were able to earn at least a point in their next game (3-0-1) to avoid a three-game drought without points.
It's a remarkable run, and the Caps would obviously like to keep it rolling. To do so, they'll need to claim at least a point against a Kings team that's in a heated drive for the final berth in the Western Conference.
Earlier this season, the Caps forged a nine-game winning streak against Western Conference foes, but they enter tonight's tilt in Los Angeles having lost three straight at the hands of Western clubs. And Washington is seeking its first win in L.A. in more than a decade, since Dec. 14, 2005. The Caps are 0-4-2 in their last six visits here.
Video: Niskanen talks with Vogel after Friday's practice
"There is a sense of urgency now where we want to get playing well again," says Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen. "We've had moments where we've been pretty good in the last couple of games, but we haven't been good enough for long enough in each game. We're going to have to improve upon that, and it's a tough test facing good teams here, back-to-back on the weekend."
The Caps visit Anaheim on Sunday to finish off a road run of three games in four nights in California. The trip started with a 4-2 loss to the Sharks in San Jose on Thursday, a loss that came on the heels of a home setback to the Dallas Stars by the same score on Monday night.
"You always want to win your next game," said Caps winger Daniel Winnik after the loss in San Jose. "I feel those narratives are much more media narratives than in our dressing room. I don't think we ever look at it like, 'Okay, we can't lose three [in a row].' We don't want to lose three, but we don't think the same way as the media puts it."
Casting The Lines - While the Caps were rollicking through the months of January and February with a combined record of 21-4-2, they were able to maintain the same forward line combinations with the exception of occasional absences because of injury. Goals were plentiful; the Caps scored four or more goals in 18 of those 27 games.
But since the calendar has flipped to March, the sticks have gone cold. Washington has scored two or fewer goals in four straight games for the first time since Oct. 28-Nov. 3, 2015. The Caps own an anemic 5.9% shooting pct. in their four March games.
Because of a Los Angeles Clippers NBA game on Saturday afternoon here, the Caps won't have a morning skate prior to their game against the Kings. Instead, they conducted a practice on Friday afternoon in El Segundo, where Caps coach Barry Trotz unveiled some significant line changes for the first time since late December. (You can see the Caps' new line configurations below.)
Video: Trotz talks after Friday's practice in Los Angeles
"We always move people around [during games], as you know," says Trotz. "I just think we've gotten a little stale; we're not finding it. Sometimes just a little change can get a little spark. I was trying to do that the last couple of games, actually.
"Sometimes you get a new linemate or a couple of new linemates, and so you get a little more communication. You're not just going through stuff, you're working through stuff rather than just going through it. Hopefully that will spark a little bit of interest and a little bit of production."
Ahead of a Dec. 29 home game against New Jersey, Trotz initially set the line combinations that stayed intact for the better part of the two and a half months since then.
"Obviously we had really great success there before the [bye week] there, and coming out of the break we kept [the lines] the same," notes Trotz. "We thought they'd sort of 're-spark,' and they haven't quite. But what I've learned from this group and the guys is that we move them around and they sort of find their way a little bit, and you can always go back to the old reliable lines, and at some point we will probably do that. But right now we just need a little spark and a little interest, a little more production at five-on-five for us."
In the case of three of the four lines, two of the linemates remain together. Only the Alex Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Tom Wilson trio is comprised of three "new" parts. The Caps need to find a way to ignite Ovechkin, who is without a goal of any kind in eight straight games, and without a five-on-five goal in 17 straight.
"If you look at what we did with the lines, all of them can score," says Trotz. "There is a scorer on every line. If we can't do it they way we've been doing it the last 10 games, we'll try a little different approach. But we've had great success when all four lines are contributing."
In The Nets - Braden Holtby is likely to get the net tonight for Washington, seeking to rebound from consecutive losses in which he yielded three or more goals. In three career starts against Los Angeles, Holtby is 1-1-1 with a shutout, a 2.33 GAA and a .920 save pct.
We expect Jonathan Quick to start in goal for the Kings. Quick returned to action late last month after missing most of the season because of a groin injury sustained on opening night back in October. He is 3-0-1 on the season with a 2.46 GAA and a .920 save pct.
All Lined Up - Neither side conducted a morning skate prior to Saturday night's game, but here's our best guess at how we expect the Caps and the Kings to look when they take to the ice tonight at Staples Center:
90-Johansson, 19-Backstrom, 77-Oshie
8-Ovechkin, 92-Kuznetsov, 43-Wilson
10-Connolly, 20-Eller, 14-Williams
26-Winnik, 83-Beagle, 13-Vrana
70-Pearson, 77-Carter, 73-Toffoli
88-Iginla, 11-Kopitar, 12-Gaborik
22-Lewis, 39-Kempe, 23-Brown
15-Andreoff, 26-Dowd, 13-Clifford
21-Shore (upper body)